CCL and Gold Cup Qualifiers: Let the Madness Begin

Posted on November 16, 2012 6:02 pm

The most fallacious argument a Eurosnob can provide against deciding a league champion through playoffs is asserting, “That’s not how it’s done in the rest of the world!” In the only part of the world that actually matters to him or her, this may be true; but in our region, specifically in North and Central America, playoffs are the standard. Through the end of the calendar year, we will follow the postseason in nine different countries, as the victors will join Kansas City and San Jose in the same continental championship next year. The playoff overlap begins this weekend; and with Gold Cup qualifiers also taking place, there will be a surplus of knockout matches in our corner of the world.

The action begins with the second matchday in the last two qualifying groups for the Caribbean Cup. To catch you up from Wednesday, Haiti continued to make amends for their World Cup qualifying debacle by defeating Guyana 1-0 on an Olrich Saurel free kick, leaving them in charge of Group 6 after hosts Grenada tied 1-1 with French Guiana. Trinidad and Tobago have had a rougher go of it on a similar road to redemption, opening Group 8 at home with only a 1-1 draw with St. Vincent and the Grenadines to leave them looking up at the surprising Cubans, who absolutely blazed Suriname 5-0. Today at 5:00 p.m. (all times EST), Haiti have the opportunity to seal their overdue return to the Caribbean Cup finals (after missing out on the 2010 edition) as they play French Guiana. A victory would guarantee a top-two finish in the group; even better for les Grenadiers, if they win and Grenada fail to do the same later tonight, they win the group (thanks to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Guyana) and would join the ostensibly easier Group A with Martinique and hosts Antigua and Barbuda in the finals. Unfortunately, there will be no live broadcasts of any of the matches from Grenada or Tobago this weekend, but you will be able to find this game on either the Haitian Creole stations Total Mix Radio, Radio Galaxie and Radio Television Caraibes or the French-language Guyane 1ere.

At the same time, Cuba will look to continue validating their reputation as Caribbean power players as they take on St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the latter’s NBC Radio may cover the game). A win would similarly confirm a visit to Antigua and Barbuda next month for the Leones del Caribe. Their chances to clinch first place also depend on what happens at 7:00 p.m. this evening, as both group hosts take on their respective South American opposition. Grenada will attempt to put away Guyana; while Trinidad and Tobago look to return to winning ways against Suriname, with the latter match to be broadcast on Radio Tambrin.

Later, at 9:00 p.m., the semifinals will kick off in the Panamanian Apertura; and to the great relief of the canaleros, neither of the clubs that embarrassed both league and country in the current CONCACAF Champions League made it to this point. Plaza Amador, the only one of the local grandes yet to reach the continental stage, will host Arabe Unido in the first leg of their home-and-away series; there will be no video broadcast of the game, however, as the national television networks are preoccupied with qualification for the next World Baseball Classic. 1 Perhaps Radio Nacional FM will carry the match, but I would not get my hopes up.

Our attention will turn to Mexico on Saturday, with the second legs of the Apertura quarterfinals. Here, it is important to note that as per Article 22.4 of the Liga MX regulations, the away-goals rule is now in effect for the liguilla, with the higher seed advancing in case the teams remain tied. I initially maintained that the league leadership missed the mark in terms of identifying where to inject more excitement. 2 The rule change has provided the benefit of encouraging the higher-seeded clubs to attack in the first leg, though, and all but one made the most of this new advantage.

First, at 6:00 p.m., América will simply need to avoid losing by three at home to Morelia in order to capitalize on their 2-0 lead; and given that the águilas only suffered two defeats in the regular season, one is hard-pressed to imagine Hector Miguel “el Piojo” Herrera’s side missing out on a second-straight trip to the semifinals. Leon’s assignment will be considerably tougher, as they bring back a 1-2 deficit to the Nou Camp in Guanajuato where they will host Cruz Azul at 8:00 p.m. A 1-0 or 2-1 victory, though, will suffice for the resurrected giants.

On Sunday, Toluca will continue its hunt for an 11th title as they receive the only other Mexican club with that many domestic trophies (in the professional era) at 1:00 p.m. Not that Chivas look the part: after crashing out of the current CCL, Marco Fabian and co. limped into the playoffs and suffered a 1-2 setback at the Estadio Omnilife in midweek. Only a loss by two goals, or by a scoreline of 2-3 or higher, would prevent the superlideres from moving on.

In complete contrast to the aforementioned encounter, the first leg of the Panamanian semifinal series between hosts Chepo and Rio Abajo (at 4:00 p.m.) features two sides without a single first-division championship between them. In fact, Rio Abajo only achieved promotion to the LPF this year, and the new guys made the best first impression possible by topping the regular-season table. The match will be shown on TV Max; but they have apparently put up regional blocking, so Radio Nacional FM is the best bet. UPDATE: the field was deemed unplayable due to heavy rains, so the game will be played tomorrow at 8 p.m.

While these clubs edge closer to qualifying, the last US berths in the 2013-14 CCL will be decided outright with the second legs of the MLS Cup semifinals.

First, at 4:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network (in the US), DC United will look to overcome a two-goal setback as they play the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium. Unfortunately for the hosts, there are no tiebreakers in effect before extra time in MLS, so any two-goal victory will simply extend their season by 30 minutes. Fail to reach the minimum target, though, and Houston will begin to make plans for traveling to the West Coast on December 1, as well as take another shot at continental glory after their 2012-13 campaign comes to an end…unless they win it all, in which case their next task will be to emulate Pachuca and Monterrey by earning two straight trips to the Club World Cup.

We will have to swing back to the Caribbean at 5:00 p.m., as teams make their last push at advancing to the finals. Suriname will take on St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Group 8, while the English and French Guyanas carry out what should be an exciting derby match further north. The last eight of the sub-regional championship will be set at 7:00 p.m., as Grenada face Haiti in a rematch from the 2009 Gold Cup and the Soca Warriors aim for revenge against Cuba for the loss that set the tone for their underwhelming run in the 2010 Caribbean Cup finals. The radio links provided earlier should similarly work for these last fixtures. UPDATE: the survival scenarios are explained in the comments.

Back in Mexico, the semifinals will be set at 7:30 p.m., as the Xolos fight to maintain their 1-0 advantage against fellow norteños Monterrey. If only the task were so easy for Seattle: after completely losing the script in succumbing to a 3-0 demolition at the LA Galaxy (that could have been worse), the Sounders must shoot for a miracle as they host the defending champions at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN. A reversal of the score only gets them overtime, and an improbable four-goal win may very well allow them to host the MLS Cup final; anything less, however, and the Sounders’ run of consecutive Champions League appearances will come to an end, while Bruce Arena will look forward to providing ample feedback on CONCACAF refereeing for yet another year.

CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers

1. Sporting Kansas City [USA4]
2. San Jose Earthquakes [USA2]
3. Houston Dynamo [USA1 or USA3]
4. LA Galaxy [USA1 or USA3]

1 – On a side note: it’s about time that MLB allowed Nicaragua to participate in the event. Still, with the pinoleros likely to return to the Gold Cup sooner rather than later, their league champion guaranteed four CCL games every year, and World Cup qualifying on the horizon in 2015, baseball still finds itself badly outpaced in terms of providing access to international events to countries like Nicaragua.

2 – To my mind, relegation should be expanded to two teams every year to light a fire under mediocre sides (see: San Luis, Puebla) that coast after both the playoffs and the descenso are realistically out of reach. Based on how the revived Copa MX played out, the introduction of two Liga de Ascenso clubs would not cause a drop in quality in the First Division; in fact, the last two clubs to climb the ladder (Xolos and Leon) both qualified for the 2013 Copa Libertadores.

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